Dunbar-based charity The Ridge has purchased Black Bull Close and Backlands Garden in the town from East Lothian Council in the county’s first Community Asset Transfer (CAT).

The Ridge provides skills training in rural skills and construction, in particular traditional stonemasonry and joinery. These skills are being used by trainees, including eight Modern Apprentices, to restore historic boundary walls and the ruined Black Bull Close buildings, to bring them back into use, and save the local heritage they represent, for local people to enjoy.

The Ridge works with people in the area to provide local, effective and personalised support. This includes employment training and support, helping people to develop new skills, and promoting personal health and wellbeing.  The Ridge supports people to inspire them in taking the necessary steps to overcome barriers.

The organisation has leased land and buildings at Black Bull Close from the council since 2015 for its activities. During this period, the Ridge has progressed the engagement of the local community in regenerating a neglected waste ground to create the stunning Backlands Garden, and the clearance and restoration of the Black Bull Close buildings, supported by a range of funders including The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic Environment Scotland, the Architectural Heritage Fund, Foundation Scotland, the local Area Partnership and Community Council, East Lothian Council and many more. The CAT scheme presents the community with the opportunity to take full responsibility for land and buildings to deliver greater community benefit.

Safeguard heritage

Following on from two extensive community consultations, the Ridge’s plans for the site include enhancing the landscape, improving biodiversity and public access to the garden, developing a much-needed support centre for local people, offices for core staff, a dance studio, workshops, artist studio space, and a training kitchen offering education and training opportunities. They also intend to safeguard the heritage and historic-built environment of this fascinating part of Dunbar’s townscape which up until recently had remained hidden and at risk of being lost forever.

Ownership of the site will strengthen their case to attract external funding towards this aim. The council has received £25,000 from the sale, which The Ridge has secured through grant funding from the Scottish Land Fund.

Depute Council Leader Norman Hampshire said: “This is great news for The Ridge, the people it works with, Dunbar town centre and the council.

“The Ridge do fantastic work to support people in getting into or return to the workplace. This could be by getting an apprenticeship or by just building confidence and stability to sustain an employment opportunity. The Community Empowerment Act gives groups greater opportunity to take on suitable assets where they have a strong reason to do so and it will develop the services they provide. 

“The Ridge has demonstrated a clear case that owning these buildings will help them to further develop their excellent services, provide job creation, skills and deliver economic and social development outcomes. Their plans will also enhance this area of Dunbar, which is a priority for our planning and regeneration teams for the benefit of the wider community.

“It supports our desire to create pathways into apprenticeships and jobs and support businesses in securing qualified people. I’m delighted that the Community Asset Transfer has been approved and look forward to seeing The Ridge’s projects go from strength-to-strength.”

Part 5 of the Community Empowerment Act introduced a right for community bodies to make requests to local authorities, Scottish Ministers and a range of public bodies for land or buildings they feel they could make better use of. As current leaseholders in Black Bull Close, The Ridge was keen to exercise their right under the Act and secure the buildings for their long-term planning.

Kate Darrah, Managing Director of The Ridge, said:

“When we embarked on this process, we had a vision of a place that would become a valuable asset for all of our community and a place from which to deliver The Ridge’s core aims and services. Taking ownership of the site allows us to secure access to those opportunities for our community into the future.”

Published: Monday, 6th September 2021